Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Israel Travelogues: Visiting The Mount Of Olives Second Part


After visiting Pater Noster we had to walk down on a quite steep road towards the Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetary. The road was turning several times and as it did so you could look into long side streets or have a quick look at the different buildings you passed by. Sometimes it was not so easy to guess what you saw: from the distance, and looked at it in a rush without seeing the specific markers it could be a synagogue built in an oriental style or a mosque too. There were also flowers, purple ones, may be oleanders blossoming in Mid-January.

You can enter the Jewish Cemetary on the Mount of Olives freely but there are several rules what you should consider. One of them is that you are not allowed to take photos in the cemetary. There is a group of Ortodox Jewish men standing at a distant corner of the cemetary controling if the rules are kept. If they feel so that the peace of the dead was disturbed by the behaviour of the visitors they can ask people to leave and close the gates of the cemetary.

It is an interesting cultural experience to stand in the most famous Jewish cemetery of the world. Already two and a half million people have been burried here during the last four thousand years. According to our guide Ryan, as morbid as it might sound, there is usually also a coffing traveling with you towards Israel on the plane because of the high importance of this cemetery among the Jewish people living all around the world. In ancient times it was forbidden to burry the dead inside city walls therefore the cemetary is located outside the ancient walls facing the old city.

After the cemetary the next stop is Dominus Flevit. As a reference to the Biblical story of Jesus breaking down crying after having a vision of the distruction of Jerusalem the chapel is built in the shape of a teardrop. From here you have again an excellent view on the Temple Mount, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. If you look right you will see also the golden onion-shaped domes of the Church of Mary Magdalene with the city of Jerusalem behind it.

The following stop is the Garden of Ghetsemane and the Church of All Nations. For its symbolic meaning the part of the garden what you can visit is somewhat small but the story of the olive trees is still inspiring. It tells about beginnings and continuation as olive trees are famous for it that you can easily plant a new tree from a simple branch. The branch what Pope Francis put to the soil couple of years ago is already a small tree which is above one meter high.

Just as we were approaching our final stop of the tour the prayer time of Muslim practicioners was about to start. It hit me by total surprise how beautiful the call to prayer was because I have never heard it before. There was something very intimate and unifying in it that at the end of the day when we saw all these sites of different religions we could also hear this beautiful chant. 

Our last stop was the Church of the Assumption which was my favorite from all the sites we saw that day. The church has a very special atmosphere: firstly because it was built under ground level and you enter it by walking down the stairs which is a quite unusual architectural solution. Secondly because it displays all major characteristics of eastern orthodox churches. You find here beautiful icons, dimly lit chapels and metal incense burners hanging from the ceiling which create a mystical atmosphere and a unique place for art lovers. Some of the famous Armenian Crusader queens are buried in this church as well.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Israel Travelogues: Visiting The Mount Of Olives

I visited the Mount of Olives with a guided tour of Sandemans New Jerusalem Tours. I heard about them through an other travel blog called Travel The Middle East. Just as the author of that blog I was very satisfied with our tour as well. You can book the tour online already before your trip. After payment you receive a confirmation and you can bring the printed voucher with you to the meeting point which is at Jaffa Gate. The participation fee for this tour is twenty one euros which icludes transportation to the Mount of Olives. They ask for additional fifteen shekels (approx. four euros) as donations aka entrance fee at two places and ten shekels for taking the mini van back to Jaffa Gate which is optional.

One reason why I chose to participate at the tour was that I was traveling alone and was planning to take photos. Therefore it was better for me to join a group where the guide knows where to walk and keeps a strict schedule in order to visit sights while they are still open. You can hear and read a lot about Jerusalem and Israel but I have to say that to see it on the spot is totally different what you might have imagined before. I felt the same safe in West and East Jerusalem- from East Jerusalem I saw only the Mount Of Olives and certain parts of the Old City. I think there is a general rule in both Israeli and Palestinian territories: at places where people live from tourism it is very rare that people behave in a hostile way towards tourists.

The legal state of East Jerusalem is a bit confusing. Certain Eastern Jerusalem neighbourhoods have been separated by a wall from the West Bank suburbs after the Second Intifada (2000). Very simply put Israel claims the whole Jerusalem as Israeli territory, while the State of Palestine refers to East Jerusalem as its capital. The international community sees East Jerusalem as a part of the Palestine state as well. To make it more complicated as you can see from the results of a poll conducted in 2011 just as there are many different, often contradictiory opinions in Israeli politics and among Israeli people, so are they among East Jerusalem Arab residents:

"A poll conducted by Palestinian Center for Public Opinion and American Pechter Middle East Polls for the Council on Foreign Relations, among East Jerusalem Arab residents in 2011 revealed that 39% of East Jerusalem Arab residents would prefer Israeli citizenship contrary to 31% who opted for Palestinian citizenship. According to the poll, 40% of Palestinian residents would prefer to leave their neighborhoods if they would be placed under Palestinian rule"

After this short recap I would like to say what I experienced from all of this above when visiting the Mount of Olives: nothing. We did not have to cross any checkpoints and I did not see the wall there. Our mini van drove through the outskirts of the Armenian quarter which has really narrow streets and the traffic is real slow. Then we drove to the top of the Mount of Olives and started our tour from there. We arrived here early afternoon and as our tour proceeded we could enjoy the beautiful lights of the golden hours before sunset. The main sights we visited were:

  • Chapel of the Ascension
  • Church of Pater Noster
  • Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetary
  • Dominus Flevit
  • Garden of Ghetsemane
  • Church of All Nations
  • Church of Mary`s Tomb

Besides the cultural richness of the tour and all the interesting stories you can hear, the view of Jerusalem and the architectural style of the sites is a huge value added plus. From the Mount of Olives you face the city of Jerusalem and the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock is just in front of you. Religious or atheist most of us heard the name of this city and the Mount of Olives so many times as we grew up that being here visiting these places has a very unique atmosphere.

On the way to Jaffa Gate:

Jaffa Gate:

Chapel of Ascension:

Pater Noster:

To be continued..